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Moldovan election: Pro-Europe Party sees setbacks in big cities but win hundreds of local elections



Sunday’s local elections in Moldova, a country of about 2.5 million people (including the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic and the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia) located between Romania and Ukraine, are legitimately expected to be a landmark decision for the future orientation of this small eastern European state. Moldova has been subdued for a long time by a geopolitical tug-of-war between Russia on the one side and the EU, NATO and, to a certain degree, the United States on the other.

Recent elections, set to pick 12.000 local officials nationwide, including the mayor of Chisinau, are seen as a test of President Maia Sandu’s pro-European policies and took place amid allegations of Russian meddling, which Moskow denies.


The Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) has enjoyed a meteoric rise in Moldovan politics, culminating in Sandu’s election as the country’s President on November 15th 2020. That growth seems to have stagnated somewhat in these elections as they won hundreds of weekend local elections but could not win mayoral seats in the biggest cities, such as in the capital, Chisinau. In Chisinau, the incumbent mayor and leader of the pro-European National Alternative Movement party (MAN), Ion Cebal, said on Monday that he had defeated Lilian Carp of PAS with 50,62% of the vote according to the preliminary results, thus narrowly avoiding a second run-off. Before Ceban set up a pro-European party last year, he was widely considered to hold a pro-Russian stance, and I believe he still does. In Balti, the mayoral race went to a second round after the PAS candidate crashed out; in Cahul, the mayor’s seat was won by an independent candidate and in Orhei, another “independent” candidate linked to fugitive businessman Ilhan Shor won the first round.


Despite losing out in the elections for the Chisinau mayor, the overall election result was a success for PAS, as the president’s party secured first place in 19 districts and won mayoral positions in 240 out of 898 localities, as well as a strong representation in the Chisinau Municipal Council with 20 seats.


Authorities accuse Russia of meddling:


Two weeks before the elections, Moldova’s Prime Minister Dorin Recean banned candidates from the pro-Russian Chance Party after the country’s national intelligence agency alleged that Moscow tried to influence the national elections through the party; some 600 candidates were affected. The Intelligence and Security Service (SIS) alleged in its 32-page report that the Chance Party had received about 50 million euros in Russian money, which would then be distributed by exiled Moldovan oligarch Ilan Shor. In April 2023, Shor was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison for his role in a $1 billion bank corruption scandal, but he still is a key figure for the Kremlin to advance its interests in the country. The money would then be used to buy voters, increase anti-European sentiment, and destabilise the country.


Hybrid war tactics aimed to interfere in domestic affairs and thus undermine the sovereignty and legitimacy of Moldovan state officials range from election meddling, the nurturing and financing of separatist sentiment in the Regions of Transnistria and Gagauzia, to the distortion of democratic processes.


Shor has denied the funds are linked to Russia, saying his business projects in different countries generated them. In a video posted on Facebook, he said he was sending money to Moldova to help pensioners and finance social infrastructure projects. This tactic has been regularly used in order to social-frame the illegal use of financial cash flows.


Forecast:


With victories mostly in rural areas coupled with PAS candidates’ failure to win control of the big cities, there is a clear sign that the Party of Action and Solidarity has a lot of work to do to swing the 2024 Presidential and 2025 Parliamentary elections in its favour. Even though the symbiosis of European political, financial and economic assistance to Chisinau (which results in ever-increasing path dependencies on several levels and aims to integrate Moldova by 2030) reduces or complicates Russian interference, one might be able to read trends only by taking into account Moldova’s complicated political and social situation. A stronger European orientation may trigger anti-Western sentiments, especially on the Left Bank of the Dniester River, which the Kremlin could instrumentalize to plunge the region into chaos. I believe the secret to success lies in integrating the Russian-backed separatist region into the Western orbit by providing practical and attractive alternatives to Russian security and energy guarantees.


Image: DUMITRU DORU/via Euractiv

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